The roles of civil society organizations to ensure a credible electoral process cannot be over-emphasised. In this piece, Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu writes that the Abia governorship election has raised credibility questions on the CSOs
While collating the governorship results for Obingwa on Monday after the April 11 governorship election at INEC office, Umuahia, the Electoral Officer had accused one international observer of facilitating the offer of bribe from a third party.
According to him, the international observer (names withheld) whom the EO claimed was his classmate had offered to link him with an interested party who would give the bribe of N50 million to influence the outcome of the results from the local government area.
Whether the EO’s claim was real or imaginary is a story for another day. The major concern is the charade by the so called observers who relocated to Lagos few days later. It was a serious verbal attack in Lagos at the heels of the April 11 elections when some politicians alleged to be from PDP disrupted the press conference where the election observers alleged that there were irregularities in the elections in four local governments where Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu got popular votes.
While the group, led by Comrade David Anyaele, Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) called for re-run of election in the LGAs, which include Osisioma, Ugwunagbo, Obingwa and Isiala Ngwa North local government areas, where the observers said there were no elections, the PDP members rose up and started a verbal attack on the observers.
They accused the observers of running away from Abia to hold a press conference in Lagos, and maintained that the press conference would not continue until the observers returned to Abia State for the conference.
The heart of the argument was the call by Civil Society Election Observers Group for the cancellation of the election results from the affected local councils, which made the process declared inconclusive, as a result of what they described as widespread electoral malpractices, violence, snatching of ballot boxes and use of fake uniformed men among other electoral offences.
In a statement signed by Leonard Onyemeri of Justice Development Peace and Commission (JDPC); Comrade Nelson Nnanna Nwafor, Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy & Development (FENRAD); Comrade Innocent Anozie Nwokocha, Society for Economic Rights & Social Justice (SERSJ); Comrade Cassiuss Ukwugbe, Human Rights, Justice & Peace Foundation (HRJPF) and Comrade David Anyaele, Centre for citizens with Disabilities (CCD) the groups said if the re-run polls would be free and fair, INEC should redeploy the corrupt officials in Abia to other states.
According to the groups, “We want to state our displeasure over series of irregularities and abuse of the electoral process which was experienced in the state Gubernatorial Election. We deem it fit to say that it is indeed a sorry state of affairs which must not be allowed to triumph in Abia State especially at his era when the wind of cogent and undeniable change is blowing across our political landscape.
“We are worried over the perceived weak oversight powers of the national headquarters of INEC over State Returning officers and state INEC officers in the management and conduct of elections, where political office holders and incumbent governors interfere and play a major role in truncating the electoral process and subverting the will of the people as being played out in the Abia state election thus making it easy for the Returning Officer and other state corrupt INEC officers to undermine the credibility of the election with reckless impunity”.
The rights groups said it decried a situation where an election result had been cancelled by the State returning officer but was forced to reverse the decision by the ruling party chieftains.
The action they said amounted to undermining the powers vested on the state collation and returning officer and abuse of the constitution and Electoral Act.
The groups stated that the Returning Officer did well in cancelling results for Isiala-Ngwa North, Osisioma and Obingwa local government areas citing widespread electoral malpractices, violence, ballot box snatching, using fake uniformed men among other electoral offences and reports of independent foreign& domestic observers that monitored the exercise.
The groups also stated, “ahead of the re-run in these areas we demand for the total cancellation of the four LGAs (Ugwunagbo, Osiosioma, Obingwa, Isiala Ngwa North LGAs) and not some polling units or wards in those areas as being canvassed by some people because reports from our teams of observers showed there were no Elections in this Areas.
The civil society organizations in the state commend the Abia electorate for the collective determination to further improve the nation’s democracy by turning out in their numbers to exercise their all-important franchise and enjoined them to remain vigilant and come out en mass to vote for the candidate of their choice in the re-run election.
But in a swift reaction, a socio political group in Abia state, All Citizens Forum, has accused Civil Society Organizations and other election observers who monitored the April 11 governorship and state Assembly polls in the state of partisanship.
The group lamented that it is shocked at the position of the civil society organizations and election observers who have called for the outright cancellation of the governorship election in three local government areas of Abia State; Obingwa, Osisioma Ngwa and Isiala Ngwa North.
Addressing a press conference in Aba, chairman and cecretary of the group, Solomon Nwaigwe and Chukwuemeka Eriugo, respectively, accused Leonard Onyemeri of Justice Development Peace and Commission (JDPC) and others of pandering to the interest of the governorship candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance(APGA), Dr Alex Otti.
“We are shocked at the position of the civil society groups and election observers in Abia state who are obviously working for the APGA governorship candidate in Abia state, Dr. Alex Otti. These civil society groups have been issuing statements calling for the cancellation of the governorship elections in Obingwa, Osisioma Ngwa and Isiala Ngwa North local governments when the polls held free and fair in these areas.
“We are also worried that an election observer group could discard the rule of its engagement to embrace partisanship. We commend INEC for refusing to be deceived by this brazen show of bias by these civil society groups in monitoring the governorship polls in Abia state.”
The group warned INEC to check the background of the civil society groups who it accredits to monitor elections in order not to bring confusion into the country’s electoral process as the election monitors have done in Abia state.
“Ahead of the April 25 supplementary polls in Abia state, INEC should take every necessary step to re-check the background of election observers to protect the integrity of the election. Our investigations revealed that some of these election observers are paid agents of the APGA candidate. Some of them relied on hear say information and never stepped foot into any of the three local government areas where they want elections cancelled,” the group alleged.
Also a legal practitioner, Ugwuzor Adindu, condemned the position of the observers, saying a returning officer has no right to cancel an election at a stage when results should be announced.
“We were angered, because from their comment, they just kept mentioning ruling party, ruling party, all because they have been in power for 16 years. And from the comment from one of them that the PDP brought a stooge because they have been in power for 16 years shows it is obvious they are working for Dr. Alex Otti of APGA and that the press conference is sponsored by APGA. It also shows clearly that from the question that I asked them, which they could not answer, they don’t know their onion with respect to election matters.
“The question I asked is that they should tell us the provision of the law that empowers a returning officer at the final stage of announcing result to cancel results. And if there is any such provisions or not, why should they now say it in their press statement, even though the returning officer has announced the results in those local government areas.”